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Beethoven’s «Eroica»

Thematic Studies- Translated by Ernest Bernhardt-Kabisch

Constantin Floros

With this study the author «opened up a previously locked door of Beethoven research» (Martin Geck). The book presents conclusive answers to questions that had occupied critics for more than a century. It makes clear what exactly Beethoven and his contemporaries meant by the term «heroic». It proves that the «heroic-allegorical ballet» The Creatures of Prometheus is a key work for an understanding of the Eroica, and shows that Beethoven associated the First Consul of the French Republic, Napoleon Bonaparte, with the mythical figure of the Titan Prometheus. The book draws on interdisciplinary researches in the areas of Greek Mythology, Napoleonic History and Comparative Literature.

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VI. The Eroica in Its Relation to the Prometheus Music and Other Works

Extract

“Around 1803 Beethoven once said to his friend Krumpholz: ‘I am not satisfied with my past works. From now on I want to strike out on a new path.’ Soon afterwards appeared the three sonatas op. 29 [= op. 31].” Carl Czerny (1852) (NBJ IX, 67) 1. Preliminaries From what has been presented so far it will be apparent that the connection be- tween the ballet The Creatures of Prometheus and the Sinfonia eroica is a good deal closer than scholars have hitherto presumed. To summarize the relations we have demonstrated: Viganò’s ballet is, according to the playbill, a heroic-allegorical ballet. Its action circles about the heroic figure of the Titan Prometheus, the benefactor of humanity. Among the indispensable components of the balli eroici are re- splendent pageantry, combat and fencing dances and warlike dances. The Pro- metheus ballet contains such a dance. The piece No. 8, called a “martial scene” by Carl van Beethoven, proved to be a danza eroica. Of Prometheus we read in the playbill of the ballet premiere that the Greek philosophers “describe him as a lofty spirit, who at his time found humans in a state of ignorance, refined them through sciences and art and taught them man- ners.” Beethoven declares on the title page of the first printing of the Eroica that the symphony was composed “to celebrate the memory of a great Man.” These givens alone point to a close link between the subjects of the ballet and the Ero- ica. How far...

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